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Travelling Australia's Northern Territory - Go the MacDonnell Ranges!

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Scenic Views along Larapinta Drive
West McDonnell Ranges

Travelling Australia's Northern Territory to the MacDonnell Ranges! It was an early start from Alice Springs with a big day in mind to see as much as we could of the West McDonnell Ranges or as the locals call it Tjoritja. The drive out of Alice on Larapinta Drive is magnificently bordered by escarpments on either side and sets the tone for the whole day.

Standley Chasm

The first stop was Standley Chasm, easily accessed by a sealed road this was an amazingly peaceful experience as we arrived early enough to have the walk and the Chasm pretty much to ourselves.

Beautiful walk to Standley Chasm
Standley Chasm, West MacDonnell Ranges

This is Aboriginal owned and operated, attracting a $12 entry fee per head (Seniors Discount $10). The facilities are first class with a well-appointed cafe, souvenir shop and some powered camping/caravan sites. The Chasm has been formed over millions of years by water running from the ranges ending up in the Finke River. The colours of the quartzite in the Chasm are amazing and if you’re there when the sun is overhead it is said to be magical. The walk is very easy and accessible to all ages and is a must.

The magnificent Standley Chasm in West MacDonnell Ranges
Standley Chasm

Ormiston Gorge

We decided to go straight through to Ormiston Gorge next and work our way back from there as this was a further 90 kms down the Namatjira drive. This Gorge has limited camping a kiosk, toilets and a great permanent swimming hole but it is the towering red escarpment walls and rock faces that make this a picture-perfect break and destination. There are plenty of walking tracks of varying levels to test even the hardened hikers and plenty of bird and local Red Centre wildlife to keep you occupied. Just 4 kms further on is Glen Helen Gorge which has a Discovery park for those that need either cabins or powered sites to base themselves to have a look around the area. WikiCamps has more info on this spot.

Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges
Ormiston Gorge

Ochre Pits

We now turned the 4x4 around to head back towards Alice and found the Ochre Pits. Wow! What a sight to behold. These waterways and strated rock formations are where the indigenous peoples collected their ceremonial coloured paint powders. The colours of the Ochre are amazing and lay in seams on the rock face, it is a very easily accessible place and the pathways and viewing platforms are very well done.

Ochre Pits, West MacDonnell Ranges
Ochre Pits

Neil Hargrove Lookout

Just a little further on we ventured up to the Neil Hargrove Lookout and this is on our list to stay for a night. 24-hour free camping and accessible to caravans, the views from the bedroom window at sunset and sundown would be insane. Only limited spots here so first in the best-dressed but would spend a night here. Check it out on WikiCamps or Camps11.

Neil Hargrove Lookout, West MacDonnell Ranges
Neil Hargrove Lookout

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Our last stop on the way back was at the Ellery Creek Big Hole, Udepata - the Aboriginal name. After some lunch from the esky and a cool drink, we had a paddle in the waters of the big hole. The water was freezing, so no swim for us today. This is the largest of the permanent waterCreekholes in the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park and has some limited paid camping spots and toilets but pets are not permitted. The Ellery Creek Big Hole is accessed via a couple of kms of dirt road but is ok for 2wd. The enormity of the rock faces and grandeur of the big hole feeding the very sandy Ellery Creek is a sight to behold.

Ellery Creek Big Hole, West MacDonnell Ranges
Ellery Creek Big Hole

Well, we had had a big day and headed off for the Alice and a well-earned cuppa, well maybe a few beers, at the caravan park. We had travelled about 350 kms today but each stop gave us a different aspect of this beautiful land we live in and it was such a fulfilling day. The West McDonnell Ranges did not disappoint and we can’t help but know that we will be back to do even more in these ruggedly stunning lands that have so much mystery and intrigue in their timeless beauty. It is easy to grasp the connection between these lands and the indigenous people who have forged an amazing culture by understanding how to survive as one with this great land.

Key Points

Getting there:

  • This is a perfect day trip from Alice Springs. Leave early make your way west. The Ranges are located right along Highway 6 (Larapinta Drive) and Highway 2 (Namatjira Drive) when travelling west of Alice Springs.

Don't forget the essentials:

  • Water, snacks, lunch

  • Sturdy, comfortable, non-slip walking shoes (Merrell Hiking Boots)

  • Hat, Sunglasses, Flynet (optional)

  • Sunscreen

  • Camera and Binoculars (optional)

West MacDonnell Ranges
West MacDonnell Ranges


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